Reading Coates's piece made me reflect on the love-hate relationship I have with the South, which is my native culture. It's not that I carry around with me a burden of shame and an "I've got to show them" competitive mentality, as Coates does with reference to blackness. Living in the North for so long -- and culturally speaking, Washington DC and South Florida are the North -- made me appreciate what was deeply good about the South. That's something I didn't see when I was a young man, and could only see its flaws. Maybe I came to terms with my inner redneck; in any case, I came to see rednecks with a lot more nuance than I did before.
And being around Northern white people, so many of whom were full of self-congratulation about their social progressivism, not realizing how provincial and bigoted they were, made me profoundly identify with Randy Newman's famous satirical song "Rednecks." It really is true, I think, that the only kind of person its perfectly safe to piss on in smart company is white working-class Southerners. "Sweet Home Alabama" is the classic, anthemic f-you by people who don't think they have a damned thing to be ashamed of. I love this song because it makes me forget that I chose to leave, and am something of a fraud and a poseur because of it.
And yet, when the South keeps coming up last in many quality of life measures -- health, education, unwed births, etc. -- it's hard to deny that there's something particularly wrong with us. It's redneck culture -- white rednecks and black rednecks both, people who live chaotic lives, dwell on grievance and resentment, and despise boring bourgeois standards of sobriety, order and respectability. It seems like we can't overcome it.